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Rapid growth, a theme park and allegations of misconduct all factors in Frisco mayoral race

Frisco's mayor is facing two challengers in this year's election. Early voting starts April 24 and election day is May 6.

Frisco residents are getting ready to vote for mayor — and it could be a tough race for incumbent Jeff Cheney. But something that recently came to light about his main opponent, the city’s former fire chief, could make things even more complicated.

Frisco is the second largest city in Collin County, and it’s experiencing rapid growth like the rest of the county. The once small suburb is now a hub for business — PGA of America and the Dallas Cowboys have their headquarters in Frisco.

The city also recently approved the zoning permit for a Universal Studios theme park for children. But not everyone is happy about all of this growth or the theme park. Citizens have said at city council meetings that they moved to Frisco to have a quiet and safe place to raise their families, not to live in a destination city.

Theme park resistance

Cheney and other Frisco city council members have received pushback about the park. They voted 4-2 to approve a zoning permit for it in early March. Cheney voted in favor of the permit.

The vote on the permit was delayed twice because of a vocal opposition that said the children’s theme park would lead to an increase in crime and traffic. Melinda Preston from Frisco said she didn’t want her city to become a tourist destination.

“I do not want my city to become a destination city,” Preston said at a city council meeting. “Can you name one city that is a destination city that does not have high crime?”

Preston and others who echoed her opinion will be casting ballots in the election. And some said they’ll remember how the council members voted on the theme park’s permit when they’re in the voting booth.

“When we have elections, hold them accountable because they don't represent what the people of Frisco want,” Frisco resident John Pavle said at a council meeting last month.

Two city council members voted against the park’s permit, including Brian Livingston, who’s up for re-election. He’s running unopposed. Laura Rummel, who has an opponent, Anwer Azam, wanted to table the issue and abstained but was recorded as a no vote.

Alleged misconduct

Cheney’s main opponent is Mark Piland, the city’s former fire chief. He retired in September after serving for nine years.

Jonathan Spencer is also running for mayor of Frisco. Spencer didn’t participate in the mayoral debate with Piland and Cheney last week. The debate was hosted by Star Patriots, a conservative political action committee. Spencer listed his occupation on his application for a place on the ballot as self-employed in software, construction and fracking.

Piland has been seen as a potentially strong contender. But there’s been a complication.

The Dallas Morning News obtained public records that show Piland was investigated for misconduct. The story alleges that Piland had staff alter a mayday report to make the department look better, according to an external investigation. Piland had ordered the report after a firefighter was injured in an apartment fire.

Piland signed a settlement agreement when he left in September according to the News’ story. He agreed to not seek employment with the city of Frisco without permission from the city manager, Wes Pierson.

Pierson also accused Piland of violating a gag order on the investigation in an email — the email alleged that Piland was forbidden from discussing the external investigation but brought it up in a meeting with Cheney in June. Piland wrote in an email that he was permitted to do so according to the city’s employee code of conduct because he was discussing the city manager and head of human resources’ unethical with their supervisor. He also wrote that the alleged changes made to the report were structural or minor revisions and that the external investigators, who were lawyers, lacked an understanding of how firefighters handle these types of reports.

The Frisco city council voted unanimously last week to release the results of the investigation to the public after discussing it during executive session. Cheney recused himself from the vote and the discussion.

Campaign Finances

Cheney appears to have raised more campaign contributions.

Records show that he raised $40,629. 84 in political contributions between Jan. 1 and March 27 according to his campaign financereport, including a $5,000 from the founder of a venture capital firm based in San Antonio and $6,000 from Craig Hall, a local real estate developer. He had $24,819.06 in political expenditures, including food and drinks for events and advertising expenses. Cheney also has an outstanding loan of $99, 374.

Piland raised $8,860 for his campaign between Feb. 17 and March 27 according to his campaign finance report, including a $1,000 donation from Shannon Greer, a local realtor, and Dr. Carrie De Moor, an emergency care physician in Frisco. He also took out a $10,000 campaign loan and spent $7,771.73 on expenditures, including advertisements and food for meet and greet events.

There are no campaign finance reports posted for Spencer.

Azam is a CPA and promises on his campaign website to be a “budget hawk” and cut wasteful spending to balance the city’s budget. His campaign finance reports show he raised $7,535 dollars in March, including $1,000 from Jagmohan Dhillon, the director of DMC hotels and Dhillon Management Group. Azam's $9,135.94 expenditures including advertising expenses for yard signs and mailers.

A campaign finance report for Rummel shows she received $5,889.25 in campaign contributions between January and March, including $2,500 from the Frisco Police Officers Association. She had $7,430.41 in political expenditures and a $3,000 outstanding loan.

A campaign finance report for Livingston showed that he had $10,239.13 in campaign funds in March. He raised $1,833.67 between January and March 2023. It also listed $14,770.32 in political expenditures.

Early voting starts Monday April 24 and lasts until Tuesday May 2. Polling locations are closed that Sunday April 30, but they are open on Saturday April 29. Election day is May 6.

Got a tip? Email Caroline Love at

Caroline Love is a Report For Americacorps member for KERA News.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Caroline Love covers Collin County for KERA and is a member of the Report for America corps. Previously, Caroline covered daily news at Houston Public Media. She has a master's degree from Northwestern University with an emphasis on investigative social justice journalism. During grad school, she reported three feature stories for KERA. She also has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas Christian University and interned with KERA's Think in 2019.